9.5 Marathons for Mental Health

Barrie schoolboy Zach Hofer tackles 400K mission to Ottawa

9.5 Marathons for Mental Health
Photo: Jobie Tanamal

How do you discourage your 12-year-old son who wants to run across Canada to raise money for mental health? The answer — you don’t. You simply modify his route.

Inspired by a Terry Fox Run he participated in as a youngster, Zach Hofer felt compelled to do something to raise funds and awareness for youth mental health in his community. Seeing his mom’s mental health struggles was also a powerful catalyst. “I witnessed mental health issues in my family and with some kids in my school and I wanted to do something to raise awareness for their struggle,” says Zach.

Training and detailed planning of the route that would see him either run, walk, scoot or cycle from his hometown of Barrie, Ont. to Ottawa started last January. August 13 was departure day and with family alongside for every step of the journey, Hofer travelled around 25 kilometres per day. Weekends were reserved for rest, allowing his body and mind to recover. Buoyed with support from people, such as MPs and mayors, to friends from school, family and social media strangers, many cheered him along his way.

“You’re fighting for all of the kids who can’t fight for themselves.” Such was a tweet Hofer received on Day 12 of his journey, a particularly tough 27K segment. When his mom, Shelley Hofer tweeted about his struggle that day, a flood of supportive tweets arrived in response. Like magic, Zach gained the motivation and strength to keep going. “Physically the hills were hard to tackle that day and there were no signs to indicate how much distance was left to our next destination, but I pushed through the moments when I wanted to quit because I was motivated by the kids who are struggling,” says Hofer.

Twenty-nine days and more than 400K later (the equivalent of 9.5 marathons), Hofer crossed his finish line on Parliament Hill, where his school teacher was among those who came out to celebrate his achievement.

“I had mixed feelings about crossing the finish line, but since I was tired, I was happy the run was over,” says Hofer. “But we are already talking about doing a second run, another physical challenge.”

Zach met Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and raised $70,000. The money will go to a new Child & Youth Mental Health Unit at Barrie’s Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre.

“The best part of this trip has been its evolution,” says Shelley Hofer. “It began as a 12-year old raising funds for youth mental health, but evolved to a kid being an inspiration to other “quiet” kids that they, too, can make a difference.”